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The Story of... | Jonathan Miller | Eloise A. Skimings | What’s in a portrait?

What's in a portrait?

We can learn a lot from a photograph – a family snapshot, a passport picture, a postcard, or any of the photographs captured by Reuben R. Sallows featuring people. In looking at these images we need to consider how we classify photographs, and this can be done by considering the following questions:

  • How do we distinguish a family snapshot from a formal portrait? Is it dependant upon the pose? Lighting? Setting?
  • What about the number of people in the picture? What can we tell about this group (or the individual) from the things we see in the picture?
  • What kind of information does not appear?

Talking about portraits
  • Have you ever had your portrait made by a photographer or artist?
  • If you have had a portrait made, how long did you have to sit for your portrait to be made? If you have never had your portrait made, how long do you think it would take?
  • If you were going to have yourself photographed in a portrait what kinds of things would you think about?
             . How would you dress?
             . What might you bring with you?
             . What kind of setting would you want for your portrait?
             . Would you be sitting or standing?
             . Would you be alone, or would someone be in it with you?

Looking at portraits

  • What can we discover about a person just by looking at his or her portrait?
  • What do you think the person in this portrait wanted to tell about him or herself?
  • What kind of life do you think this person leads? Does he or she work? If so, as what? Are there any props or things about the background that give clues about the subject’s profession or lifestyle?
  • Is this a person you would like to meet? Why, or why not?
  • If the person in this photograph could speak to you, what do you think he or she would say?

Discover some of the many group portraits and studio photographs created by Reuben R. Sallows by using our Search the Collection feature.

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